My UN-word of the year

 my UN-word for 2014: multitasking

Today I’m joining in with The Nester to share my UN-word for 2014. The un-word is a word you’re rejecting for the New Year.  

I’ve always been a terrible multi-tasker, and guess what? It doesn’t work anyway. What we call multitasking is really just task switching. We can’t do two things at the same time: while we may think we’re doing them concurrently, we’re really only able to toggle back and forth between tasks.

The problem is this kills your productivity–by up to 40%, according to some studies. It also burns up your mental and emotional energy much more quickly than focused work does.

While I’ve known multitasking is bunk for years, you wouldn’t necessarily know it by my habits.

Bermuda triangle for writers

I get caught all too often in the Bermuda triangle of Pinterest-Facebook-Twitter (or Twitter-Email-Instagram, the varieties are endless) when I should be doing focused writing.

But that’s not where I do most of my switch-tasking. While reading The Myth of Multitasking, (ironically, while standing up at my local library, leaning against the biography section while my kids rifled through the paperbacks for new Maisy and Thomas), I realized: it’s the multi-tasking that drives me crazy in our homeschool days.

Some days it feels impossible to get through Lucy’s reading lesson without Silas needing a snack. Or to teach Jack long division without Sarah needing help carrying over. Or, yesterday: to get everyone through breakfast without the dog throwing up on the fireplace.

Although I didn’t use the m-word, we’ve done a lot this year to reduce distractions and improve focus in our homeschool.

But I still do a ton of switch-tasking, and it drains me. (And I don’t really feel like I have the emotional energy to spare!)

My UN-word for the year is multi-tasking. Instead, I’m cultivating focus: in my work, in our homeschool, in our family life.

Wish me luck. And hit me with your tips. I’ll need them. 


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  1. Kimberly says:

    I have no capacity for multitasking whatsoever. I thought I was somehow failing as a woman;) I need to work hard to focus on one task at a time, but I feel much less scattered and more productive when I do. And that bermuda triangle? A thousand times yes. It gets me every time!

  2. The older I get and the more I’m wandering around online, the less focused I am. I’ve gotta put some parameters around all that pulls at me … and several TO-DO lists keep me going. But the best remedy is to close down the laptop, walk away, and have a life.

    The Bermuda Triangle? Gotta say ‘no thanks’ and just stick with blogging.

    Loved your word, enjoyed connecting with you today!


  3. Danielle says:

    While multitasking decreases productivity, so does trying to remain focused on something for too long. I wish I could cite the source this comes from, but I once read that it’s helpful to do something “different” every 20 mins for about 5 mins and make sure you get up and walk around once every hour. Although counterintuitive, it actually helps you be more productive by taking a little break. Sometimes when I’m writing or lesson planning, I’ll allow myself to enter the “Bermuda triangle” for a set amount of time, like 3-5 minutes. Then I’m not getting lost in there and getting a little brain break 🙂

    Good luck! 🙂

  4. Janice says:

    Oh, I am SO interested to read how you reduce multitasking in homeschool! I homeschool my 7 yr old, sorta-half homeschool my 4 year old who wants in on anything her big brother does, but there’s also a 2 year old running rampant. I know multitasking drains me, too, but I jut can’t seem to weed it out during homeschool hours. Which makes me crabby. Which makes homeschooling MUCH less fun than it could be….

    So make sure you share. (Do you think you could learn it all this week and share? no pressure, but…pressure!)

    • Anne says:

      If only I could learn all that in a week! I’ll see what I can do … but I know there’s only so much to to do about our wild and crazy three-year-old. 🙂

      • Karlyne says:

        Three year olds are multi-tasking nightmares. I mean, they’re the only people on the planet who actually can do it. Zero to sixty in under one second? Not a problem for a 2-3 year old!

  5. Multi-tasking is kind of the reality of life with small children. You can reduce chosen multi-tasking (e.g. sneaking email checks while playing with the kids). But you can’t completely get rid of the fact that a 2-year-old and a 4-year-old want something simultaneously. And neither has the maturity to recognize that his/her request might not be *the most important thing in the world* at the moment.

    • Anne says:

      You’re so right. This is why it’s so important for me, I think, to reduce the multitasking I actually have control over. (Your Fast Company piece has been rattling around in my head for months on this.)

      • Katherine says:

        I devoted a month last year to “unitasking” [made-up word] because I felt so frazzled all the time. It meant ignoring lots of beeps- a text that just came in, the microwave, the dryer- and getting to them later, after I finished the task I was on. It also involved me saying “you can wait a minute until I’m finished or you can get it yourself” a lot to my kids. I noticed a big (positive) change in my mornings, when lots of things have to get started all at once. Doing one fully before embarking on the next made me feel more in control.

        Now if only the 1.5 year old would get on board.

        • Karlyne says:

          I have begun to ask the almost 3 year old, ” Did you see my lips moving? Wait just a moment, while I finish talking.” Strangely enough, it’s working!

  6. Anna says:

    There are many distractions and interruptions outside my control, but I’ve tried to reduce multitasking when I can. My mind tends to race with all sorts of possibilities of what I could and should be doing at any given moment. For me, having a loose schedule helps. Then I’m not trying to do everything at once or at the other extreme procrastinating and trying to do everything at the last minute. Sometimes, it means having my computer & phone sound turned off at certain times, and some limits on the kids. For example, I can only have one kitchen helper at a time. That way my attention is not pulled in so many directions. Lists help me, too. If I have things on my mind that need to get done, they keep running through. If I write it down, I can put it out of my mind temporarily, knowing I’ll see it later. (Plus lists help me prioritize.)

  7. carrie says:

    I can’t remember how old your oldest is but this does get easier as the older kids get old enough to help the younger kids with math! Often by the time I get around to answering a request for help an older child has jumped in. This is good because it reinforces their knowledge and often the kids are better at explaining the concept than I would 😉

  8. I know exactly how you feel about the schoolwork issue. What I’ve started doing, and has been working quite well, I might add, is letting the children do their math one at a time (in case they need me) at a time of their choosing because this is when they’ll be the most motivated to complete it. I know that suggestion makes it seem as if it will take more time, but it really doesn’t because you’re avoiding the back and forth and getting it all done at once. Now, of course there will still be interruptions sometimes (especially from Littles), but at least it’s ONE child having to wait, instead of several.

  9. Deborah says:

    What a wonderful unword! Multitasking can be so draining. It’s much harder as a homeschooling mom not to be juggling many things at once. It sort of comes with the territory. When I was homeschooling, I turned off the phone, the computer (at least didn’t look at anything non-school related), turned down 90% of the invitations I received to go places, etc. Decluttering things, obligations, and schedules really helped. Practicing being present in the moment, no matter what you’re doing, allows you to really enjoy and savor what’s going on at the time.

    Oh, and I love that Bermuda Triangle picture! So true!!

  10. Breanne says:

    Brilliant word. One that I’ve been mulling over for weeks to find some healthy balance in my life. My biggest practice right now is no screens and parenting. For me, the screen is a huge distraction even if I’m just replying to blog comments while waiting for a pot to boil. I force myself to wait until I have time and headspace which right now means a lot less online time and more focused time on my littles.
    So easy to type out, much harder to put in practice and make a habit of it.

  11. Sarah says:

    One of my best anti-switch-tasking (haha) tools is the 30/30 app. It allows you to set up a schedule of things to do and assign times to each. My standard list is 50 minutes of work/ 10 minute break (which repeats all day), but I’ve also found it helpful to schedule leisure activities – because for some reason I can’t seem to focus even on those on some days!

  12. Misty says:

    Absolutely brilliant! I mean, truly brilliant… Multi-tasking is of the devil… AND YET, I pride myself as a fabulous multi-tasker. What is wrong with me?

  13. Shelly says:

    You have to read THE ONE THING, by Gary Keller !!!!
    I’m just reading it now, and it’s ALL about the myth of multitasking, doing too many things at once, and how nothing great really happens when we are chasing too many things. It’s a great book!!!

  14. Hannah says:

    The part about multitasking draining emotional energy rings the truest for me. Sometimes, when I’ve tried to do much, too quickly, I find that I’m weepy, crabby, hopeless. And I think, “What is wrong with me? Why am I so fragile?” But I think it’s that I’m just mentally fatigued and this is what that looks like for me sometimes.

  15. Leigh Kramer says:

    I find myself multi-tasking when the TV is on. I rarely JUST watch the show. I’m also reading a book or the newspaper or on my laptop. (Way too much time on the laptop.) This means I’m not fully paying attention to the show or to what I’m doing. So I’m resolving to give my full attention to one task or another. If I’m watching a show, that’s all I’m doing. If I’m on my laptop, the TV needs to be off. A few exceptions, such as live tweeting the Academy Awards but even live tweeting needs to be a minimum. I want to actually pay attention to whatever it is I’m doing!

  16. Kate says:

    If I were to pick an un-word for 2014, I think it might be “should”. I spend too much of my day thinking about or worrying about what I *should* be doing instead of just focusing on what I am actually doing. It sucks the enjoyment out of moments with my kids. “Should” also causes me to fail to recognize the positive in my days – the things that I did get done, instead of the ones that I didn’t. Sometimes it can also cause me to feel the dreaded mom guilt that I find to be so stupid and pointless, because when I think about what others may think of me, then I know I’m parenting out of “should” based fear instead of making personal decisions that make sense for me and my family in any particular moment.

  17. Carly says:

    Ahh yes, agreed. I write this comment with approximately 14 tabs open in my browser. And that’s just one window. Lord help us. Open with new tab. Open with new tab. Switch. Switch. Switch.
    My mind is about to explode from all the “multi-tasking.”
    How do we stop?

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